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Flux50 Talk with Patrick O., General Director at Viessmann Belgium

Why insecure consumers prefer storing money over storing energy

Small-scale energy storage is the focal point of the first focus session of 2019, which will take place on 19 February. How will this type of storage evolve in the future? What are the best technical avenues and how will the market shape these solutions?

Patrick O, General Director at Viessmann Belgium, shares his vision of the road ahead, as well as a warning about dead ends. An interesting conversation that lays the groundwork for our focus session.

Patrick, how do you envisage the future of small-scale energy storage as a way to support decentralized production?
I don’t think that we as a technical producer will be steering the market in this or that direction. We’re pleased when we’re able to follow volatile market trends. To give an example: biomass boilers never really worked in Belgium, but with these devices possibly popping up in regional climate plans again, it seems that that story isn’t over yet.

Who or what determines the course of small-scale storage, if not the industry itself?
The determining market factor would be (in)security and (un)certainty, if you ask me. Only a clear vision can steer things; uncertainty immobilizes the market. It’s policy decisions that determine the end of the road, whether it will be green, light or dark.

What exactly are you referring to with uncertainty or insecurity?
Well, sustainable solutions seem to be riddled with doubt about the long term. So consumers go for short-term benefits. That’s why we sold 210,000 heating boilers and only 8,000 heat pumps last year. The big difference between gas and electricity prices make heat pumps uneconomical. Why don’t we tax fossil fuels like gas? It would improve the profitability of heat pumps and other hear storage devices, and thereby facilitate their way onto the market.

These prices favour fossil fuels, but also household electricity production, through solar panels for example. Still, battery energy storage hasn’t really come through. How do you explain that?
Insecurity, once more. Minister Tommelein’s promise for the 15-year reversing counter for solar panel owners has now been confirmed by the new minister. But will the VREG deliver a workable solution to make this promise a reality? That knowledge is crucial to calculate your ROI time.
Generally speaking, consumers are uncertain. Installers don’t know what to recommend anymore. Journalists speculate and come up with theories, further adding to the uncertainty. A renovation bonus here and there won’t cut it anymore. We need an all-out Belgian vision, with policies that are stronger than the sum of regional efforts.

If you were to lay out a vision as a Belgian minister, how would it look for energy storage?
Tax electricity and fossil fuels equally through a CO2 tax. Integrate solar thermal production into EPB [energy performance of buildings] calculations. That isn’t the case right now and it’s devastating for marketing our technology, but the shortcoming is due to a simple IT bug!

And what about renovation or collective housing such as apartment buildings?
For renovations, I’m a strong believer in deconstruction-construction. It’s way more efficient. For apartment buildings, central heating is the way to go, so you can keep all options open for the future: biothermal, cogeneration, thermic buffers… It’s a stepping stone towards collective heating. You can connect buildings to roll out a collective system.
Despite the appeal of the idea of collective heat, there’s a strange Belgian twist to it as well. After we took down several projects a couple of years ago, we’re set to build a new district heating system after all… 

So you see, interesting times lie ahead.


Focus Session 19/2: Small-scale energy storage: what’s in it for you?

"Generally speaking, consumers are uncertain. Installers don’t know what to recommend anymore."